Saturday, January 31, 2009

Philosophers and Wolves

TLS January 2, 2009

from Ali Smith's review of Sylvia Townsend Warner's New Collected Poems, and Valentine Ackland's Selected poems:

But settling in with Ackland in Dorset in 1930 did bring Warner alive, out of "this death I have say so snugly in for so long", and the couple stayed together, with a couple of rocky periods, in their open relationship for four decades. As Bingham, Ackland's critical guardian angel, writes elsewhere, "the presence of Valentine in her work is one way in which Warner represented the possibility of an alternative society; the revolutionary ideal as she was actually living it". By comparison, though, Warner sublimated her poetry to Ackland in much the same way as she, a woman who loved musix, simply stopped going to concerts because concerts bored her lover. If her lover needed to be The Poet, then she wouldn't challenge her for the role. 

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from Mark Vernon's review of Mark Rowlands's The Philosopher and the Wolf:

Rowlands's thoughts on "externalism", as his view of the connection between mind and world is called, developed in part because of his relationship with Brenin [the wolf he raised]: "I think there are certain thoughts that can emerge only in the space between a wolf and a man".

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TLS January 23, 2009

From Felix's review of Fernando Baez's "A Universal History of the Destruction of Books":

In the aftermath of Stalin's death in 1953, "a strange episode", we are told by Fernando Baez, took place regarding the Great Soviet Encyclopedia. "Levrentiy Beria, the chief of Soviet security, died nine months laer, and shortly thereafter the publishers of the encyclopedia sent letters to subscribers informing them that they should remove the article on Beria and replace it with a postcard of the Bering Sea, included with the letter."

. . . The Soviet authorities did not in fact send out postcards of the Bering Sea, but replacement pages. They also, with touching helpfulness, enclosed razor blades to help with the excision.

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[Extract from Matthew Battles' Library: An unquiet history:] "When the People's Liberation Army invaded Tibet, it razed monasteries by the score; hundreds and thousands of books went up in flames. The distinctive form of the Tibetan printed book--long narrow codices printed from wood block, clad in saffron covers sewn with crimson thread, a format centuries older than Gutenburg's Bible--nearly ceased to exist. Monks and refugees brought whole libraries over the border to India by horse and mule, where they not only founded new libraries but started new presses, keeping the craft of the Tibetan book, like a lineage of lamas, alive."

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TLS January 30, 2009

from Martin Pugh's review of Sheila Rawbotham's Edward Carpenter: A life of liberty and love:

One of the many virtues of Rowbotham's book is that it puts Carpenter's homosexual experience into context. Despite the scandal generated by the Oscar Wilde case, the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885 was not widely enforced. Moreover, the homosexual trade of upper- and middle-class London represented only one aspect of late-Victorian sexuality. In Yorkshire, Carpenter encountered a different culture based on rural, working-class communities of men for whom it was routine to be naked together for swimming or even athletics, to dance together in the absence of women, and to share beds for lack of space. As a result they often grew up without the self-consciousness about physical contact that afflicted the higher classes and were willing to take sexual encounters with men in their stride before and even during marriage. By explaining how Carpenter settled down to live with George Merrill in a stable relationship that lasted decades while continuing to enjoy encounters with other men, Rowbotham shows that a homosexual lifestyle was feasible despite the severity of the law and society's disapproval.

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[The scandal of Wilde's trial] did not stop Carpenter publishing Love's Coming of Age in 1896, in which he made the case for legalization of homosexuality on the basis that it was congenital, that private behavior should be beyond the province of the law, and hat legal regulation was impractical and encouraged blackmail--in effect the modern, liberal case. 

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from Ian Thomson's review of Giuseppe Gioacchino Belli's Sonnets, translated by Mike Stocks:

In the six years between 1831 and 1837, Belli wrote an astonishing 1, 950 sonnets in the coarse-tongued dialetto romanesco. The majority were set amid the card sharps, prostitutes and other low-lifers of Rome's Trastevere ("across the Tiber") district, where a monument to the poet stands today. Belli conjured pre-Risorgimento Rome and the life of its common people with journalistic verismo, yet his sonnets were never intended for publication, as Belli feared charges of obscenity. Instead, he circulated them privately in manuscript among a circle of friends and admirers, including Charles-Augustin Sainte-Beauve and Nikolai Gogol. As a poet, Belli was "a rebel to the point of subversion", said [Primo] Levi, yet he remained a political conservative, who worked as a censor (somewhat hypocritically, given his bitingly anticlerical verse) for the papal government, and scorned Garibaldi as a red-shirted bogeyman.

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Belli's Roman milieu, with its Caravaggesque gallery of tavern boys, podgy prelates, whores and conmen, not surprisingly captivated Anthony Burgess. In his novel ABBA ABBA (1977), he created a fictional meeting in Rome between Belli and John keats, who died in the Piazza di Spagna in 1821. 

1 comment:

Eshuneutics said...

The New Collected Poems sounds interesting, containing many new poems unearthed by Claire Harman, though I doubt the claim that the re-evaulation of her work sets her just below Woolf as the most significant female writer of the C20. ST-W is fine in many ways, but her novels and poetry do not rival HD.